By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)
Pakistans nurses and midwives are playing a vital role on the frontlines of the COVID-19 third wave despite the ongoing shortage of healthcare professionals in the country, policymakers and academics reckoned at a seminar at the Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, held to celebrate the International Day of Nurses and Midwives.
The AKU is a pioneering institution of higher education that works to improve quality of life in the developing world and beyond. The University operates programmes in campuses in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the United Kingdom, and treats more than two million patients per year at seven hospitals and more than 350 medical centres.
While recognizing how nurses have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve the public during the pandemic, the Sindh Chief Minister, Murad Ali Shah, the chief guest at the event, noted that demand for nurses worldwide was increasing which was creating incentives for nurses in Pakistan to move abroad.
We are mindful of the fact that due to the global shortage of nurses, the demand worldwide has increased which is giving our nurses the opportunity to migrate to high-income countries to improve their quality of life. This is definitely something we dont want to happen as in Pakistan there was already a shortage of 1.3 million nurses before the pandemic, he declared.
Pakistan has one of the greatest shortages of trained high-quality nurses. No healthcare system can deliver quality care without the input of trained, committed professionals in the nursing field, Dr Faisal Sultan, special assistant to the prime minister on health, stated.
He added that the governments national health taskforce was working to expand the education and training of nurses to ensure that the countrys nursing workforce continues to grow.
In a recorded message, Sindh health minister Dr Azra Pechuho remarked that one of the reasons behind Pakistans shortage of nurses is that too few women were seeking admission to the profession.
The speakers at the event also recognized that limited career pathways for nurses, inadequate compensation and respect, and unsafe work environments were some of the factors behind people leaving the profession or choosing to practice abroad, adding that Pakistan was one of the five countries facing the largest deficits of nurses with the World Health Organization (WHO) also calling on the country to take steps to double its nursing workforce.
Nurses have grown used to double shifts, no days offs and living at hospitals during the pandemic to keep the public safe. They are also working at vaccination centres, hosting capacity building drives for their colleagues, volunteering at field isolation centres, as well as managing tele-clinics, hotlines and home-health initiatives. Despite being stretched, they are striving to do their best, AKUs School of Nursing and Midwifery Dean, Professor Rozina Karmaliani, revealed.
Commenting on the steps needed to retain and encourage nurses to stay in the workforce, experts highlighted the need to promote Advanced Practice Nursing, APN, qualifications that enhance the skills of nurses and enable them to widen their scope of practice. This would involve the granting of licenses to nurses and midwives with specialist qualifications enabling them to run their own clinics.
Empowering nurses and midwives to take the lead in patient care would expand the availability of affordable care. It would also boost timely access to treatment that would prevent the onset of complications which place a significant burden on tertiary care hospitals, Professor Rafat Jan, associate dean at AKUs School of Nursing and Midwifery, stressed.
While panelists at the seminar appreciated the federal government for setting up a taskforce on nursing announcing measures to establish a new nursing university and to invest in expanding the nursing sector, they added many other initiatives were needed to promote the education of nurses.
They highlighted the need to convert nursing schools into colleges and to encourage faculty development initiatives so that academic institutions would have enough teachers.
They also called on the government to invest in online learning to improve access to learning during the pandemic so that graduates could complete their education on time and join the workforce immediately. In addition to online teaching and the use of digital platforms, introducing innovations in simulation can also help produce the best nursing graduates for the market, speakers added.
Nurses have left no stone unturned to support the healthcare system. I salute their persistence, dedication and hard work which they have exhibited especially in the ongoing battle against COVID-19, Khairunisa Khan, deputy director of nursing in Sindh, complimented.
The speakers at the event also appreciated the achievement of milestones by their colleagues during the year such as Pakistan awarding its first nursing doctorate, and 8 nurses from the country being named among the worlds 100 outstanding nurses. Other speakers at the event included Aga Khan University Hospital, AKUH, CEO Dr Shahid Shafi, AKUH Chief Nursing Officer Salma Jaffer and AKU Medical College Dean Dr Adil Haider.